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Are we a racist nation?

Are we a racist nation?

I was outraged when I read an article entitled “NAHIM KHADI’S RACIST ARROGANCE AND THE CASE AGAINST GIVING FULL CITIZENSHIP TO THE LEBANESE” in the  Torchlight Newspaper, owned by the Press Secretary to His Excellency and my good friend and brother, Shekito Tarawallie. After reading this article and before even cooling down, I was incensed by another opinion piece in Cocorioko, entitled “Reviewing the Citizenship Law: A warning” in which the writer alleges that all Lebanese have failed to integrate, and treat Sierra Leoneans as second class citizens.  Cocorioko is a pro-government website whose publisher and CEO is Wilfred Kabs Kanu, is also Minister Plenipotentiary to the Sierra Leone Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York and Coordinator of the Africa Union Committee of 10. Both articles made me ponder about the question, “Is Sierra Leone a racist nation?”

I suspect the two articles are in reaction to recent stories of Nasser Ayoub’s threat to go on hunger strike and Samir Hassaniyeh’s comments that our citizenship laws are discriminatory against the Lebanese. I must confess that though in a similar positions as Hassaniyeh and Ayoub (who Hassaniyeh says is a Palestinian), yet I will not be following the latter’s threat of hunger strike because I cannot live without my favourite cassava leaves and potato leaves (especially the potato leaves wanport which my wife cooks so well) for more than a couple of days. I also do not believe that any violation of my citizenship rights in Sierra Leone has reached the level suffered by Mandela, Gandhi or Martin Luther King to warrant a hunger strike. Hassaniyeh was wrong to suggest that the citizenship laws are only discriminatory against Lebanese. They are discriminatory against all persons not of negro African descent who qualify for Sierra Leone citizenship.

The writer of the Cocorioko piece which is also published in the online edition of the Government owned Daily Mail is probably an American national.  Imagine the hullabaloo if the West had laws similar to the Sierra Leone law that restrict citizenship on the basis of race? The writer erroneously accuses the Lebanese of fighting tooth and nail to oust Nir Guaz aka Skipper.  This is baloney. Skipper was fought by the Momoh and Bambay Kamara because they did not want to pay him his money he had loaned them. The Lebanese Community was benefiting considerably from Skipper and his excessive pricing of diamonds. There was a state of emergency at the time and Skipper had loaned the Government money. The very Government then arrested him and charged him for violating the State of Emergency laws. What did the Lebanese have to do with that? How is this relevant to the issue of citizenship?

The writer also suggests that most bi-racial Lebanese are of Lebanese fathers and black mothers and in distorted and twisted logic concluded that it only means blacks are “meant to be under them and not above them.” That is absolute hogwash and is insulting to someone like me who is married to a Sierra Leonean.  The writer’s contention is again totally inaccurate. There are examples abound. Lamin Bangura is married to Justice Vivian Solomon, DIG Richard Moigue is married to Olga Solomon, Tunde Scott is married to one IFTONI, the late M.B.Sesay and Dr Chernor Jalloh, former Minister of Tourism and Culture under President Kabbah, are all good examples. The writer has obviously not been to the provinces were most of the Lebanese and Syrians populations are fully integrated. The fact that it does not happen more often is not because all Lebanese are racists. There are some people amongst other groups like the Fullahs and Krios who also prefer their daughters to marry their kinsmen. I do not hear anyone complain about some Indians in Sierra Leone who also prefer their children not to inter marry. Does that make them racist? No!  But the writer only attacks the Lebanese.

Mr. Rodney Michael (author)

The writer further states “that there is grave threat of extremism from the Arab population which they could import into our peaceful, co-existence, and religious tolerance communities”. He goes on further to allege “that the Lebanese Community was helping Hezbollah and was also involved in buying diamonds for Al-Qaeda. Sierra Leoneans must remember one thing about the Arabs or Lebanese; they could shed blood for anything against Israeli interest. Giving certain rights to these middle-easterners might bread a Sunni-Shia religious sect in Sierra Leone and a platform for an invisible anti-Israeli and anti-Western interests under a ‘snail-work’ agenda.” This is gibberish of the highest order and is extremely insular, incomprehensible and inciting. Middle-Easterners including Lebanese, Syrians and Jordanians have been in Sierra Leone since 1893. Most of those who arrived were Maronite Christians. Prominent Lebanese politicians like Druze leader Walid Jumblatt grew up in Sierra Leone. There has not been any disturbance in Sierra Leone caused by Lebanese. On the contrary the contributions of many afro-Lebanese, like John and Edward Akar and Farid Raymond Anthony, have been acknowledged by many. The writer broadens his attack not just to Lebanese but to all Arabs. What has giving citizenship to non-negros got to do with the shedding blood for Isreali interests? So is it now a crime or wrong to support the emancipation of the Palestinians? Didn’t Sierra Leone support black South African during the days of apartheid? There are already Sunnis and Shiites as well as Ahmadists in Sierra Leone. There is not need for Lebanese to export them to Sierra Leone. The writer seems to be suggesting that all other non-negros must be given citizenship except Lebanese and Arabs.

In the Torchlight Newspaper, the author described Nahim Khadi as an “Afro Lebanese”. It is incredible that the former Leone Stars captain and Manager, captain of our national cricket team and current SLFA President is now an Afro-Lebanese and not a Sierra Leonean? Is the writer being honest to his conscience and country? Is it fair to blame all Lebanese for the actions of Nahim Khadi? How could the writer rain such racist comments and abuse on an entire community for the behaviour of one individual who happens to have spent almost all his life in Sierra Leone? In 15 out of 19 paragraphs the writer issues invectives against the entire Lebanese Community as if it was the entire Lebanese Community that had annoyed him. As if it is not enough the writer prepares the Nation for Part 2! If Part 1 is so bad, I wonder what Part 2 will be like?

The writer then assumes that all Lebanese men that are in a relationship with non-Lebanese women maltreat them. True there have been stories of young girls who have been taken to Lebanon and maltreated by some Lebanese. Does this mean that all Lebanese maltreat Sierra Leoneans. The answer is no. Such assumption and generalization reflects hate, narrow-mindedness and ignorance and it is extremely sad and disappointing.

The assertions and allegations made by the two writers are a cause for concern however what is more troubling is the fact that both papers in which these articles were published are recognized as APC mouthpieces and for that reason alone there needs to be some clarifications. Are they reflective of the current Government or party’s views on citizenship? The newspapers did not publish a disclaimer that the views were the views of the authors and not the publications. I do not believe we are a racist nation. Most Sierra Leoneans, I interact with are not racists. However, when Government or pseudo-Government publications publish such stories it gives the wrong impression. The Government of Sierra Leone must distance itself from these xenophobic slurs. It must unequivocally say that these articles do not represent its views. Citizenship is a national issue and not a Lebanese issue! Our citizenship laws need reform and since they are racist and discriminatory they must be repealed and replaced.

By Rodney Edmond Michael

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  • The heart and minds of the people of sierra Leone are decisive .its a lost battle you must relinquish . You can take the horse to the river but can’t force it to drink. Guess what there is no smoke without a fire. Bye bye

    24th September 2010
  • I do not need to read through your article that says, ‘is Sierra Leone a racist nation’ my simples answer to this question is that, a black man nether Sierra Leone cannot be racist. Please research or find out about this thanks.

    13th September 2010

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